£1.2bn spent on 'fake' apprenticeships

Half of apprenticeships started since 2017 do not fit the true definition, according to thinktank EDSK

Julia Belgutay

Around half of apprenticeships started since the levy was introduced do not meet the definition, a think tank has said

Half of apprenticeships started by employers and universities since the apprenticeship levy was introduced are “fake”, according to a new report.

The report, published by education think tank EDSK and entitled Runaway Training, claims that employers and universities are “mislabelling” training courses as apprenticeships as they try to use up apprenticeship levy funds.

The report states that half of apprenticeships started since the levy was introduced in 2017 come into this category, and have attracted total of £1.2 billion of apprenticeship funding.

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Rebadged management training

According to EDSK, employers have used up over £550 million of levy funding on rebadged management training and professional development courses for more experienced employees. This has led to the most popular apprenticeship now being the “team leader/supervisor” – accounting for almost one in 10 apprentices.

“Meanwhile, the chartered manager and department manager training courses have consumed around £100 million each,” the report says. “Other roles such as retail manager, senior insurance professional, marketing manager and HR consultant are self-evidently not entry-level positions but they continue to consume the levy funds that could instead have been used to support young people.”

Universities have used around £450 million through a wave of new apprenticeships up to bachelor’s and master’s level, according to the report, even though these degrees can already be funded through the student loan system.

There has also been “an overt attempt by these organisations to relabel their university academics as ‘apprentices’ to use up the university’s own levy contributions”. The report says: “The fact that you typically need a PhD to be accepted onto this levy-funded training course confirms that it bears no relation whatsoever to any genuine apprenticeship,” before adding that many graduate training schemes for roles such as management consultants and accountants have also been relabelled as apprenticeships to attract levy funding.

A further £235 million of levy funding has been used to deliver various low-skill and generic jobs now counted as apprenticeships. This includes working on a shop checkout, serving drinks in a bar and being part of an airline cabin crew. Outside of “apprenticeships”, such roles are advertised as offering minimal training and low wages, which is why they do not meet any established definition of an apprenticeship either in this country or abroad.

A new definition

The report concludes that a new approach to the apprenticeship levy is needed to make it financially sustainable as well as deliver world-class technical education in England. It calls on the Department for Education to introduce a new definition of an apprenticeship, benchmarked against the best technical education systems in the world. This would mean the term would only be used for courses at the international standard of level 3.

All low-skill and generic training courses that do not meet this new definition should be scrapped immediately, the report urges, and the apprenticeship levy should be renamed the technical and professional education levy, and all existing apprenticeships from level 4 to level 7 should be renamed technical and professional education (TPE) as well as having their funding reduced.

Bachelor’s degrees and master’s-level courses labelled as apprenticeships should be excluded from the scope of the new levy, EDSK states, and Ofsted should be made the sole regulator for any apprenticeships and technical and professional education funded by the new TPE levy, including provision in universities.

Tom Richmond, director of EDSK and a former adviser to ministers at the DfE, said: “Despite being set up with the best intentions, the apprenticeship levy is now descending into farce. Instead of supporting the government’s efforts to improve technical education for young people, the evidence shows that some employers and universities are abusing the levy by rebadging existing training courses and degrees as ‘apprenticeships’ for their own financial gain.

“If the government wants apprenticeships to be taken seriously by young people, parents and teachers, they must protect this historic brand by scrapping all the ‘fake apprenticeships’ and benchmarking our training programmes against the best in the world. Not only will this save hundreds of millions each year, it will provide more opportunities for young people to train as genuine apprentices, especially those living in the most deprived areas.”

Rejecting the claim

Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive Mark Dawe said: “For a post-Brexit economy with migratory controls, we have to say again that apprenticeships should be available to employers of all sizes to access to the full range of apprenticeship programmes from level 2 through to level 7. We have to repeat ourselves because whatever guise Tom Richmond has taken since leaving government, he sounds like a scratched record on the subject.

“AELP totally rejects his claim that the new level 2 standards in England fall short of the ILO definition of a proper apprenticeship and the caricatures used bear no resemblance to the reality of what is actually being learned by the apprentice.”

Mr Dawe added that level 2 apprenticeship starts have slumped by a half since the levy started and if the prime minister was serious about doing more for the Midlands and the North, the reforms to the levy “must reverse this damaging decline”. He added: “These apprenticeships are essential for sectors such as construction and social care which will help galvanise the left-behind regions.”

A spokesperson for the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education said: “We work closely with thousands of employers as well as many other stakeholders to make high quality apprenticeship standards available across the whole economy. This has led to a broader variety of apprenticeships up to degree-level being available to employers, a far better reflection of the nation’s skills requirements than if apprenticeships were limited to level 3.

“We want many different people to benefit from the huge variety of opportunities apprenticeships now offer, which is why since our launch in April 2017 we have vastly increased the number of standards and reduced the amount of time taken to develop them.”

A spokesperson for the DfE said: “Our reforms mean apprenticeships are better quality, lasting for a minimum of 12 months with at least 20 per cent off the job training. In 2017, we introduced legislation so training cannot be called an apprenticeship unless it meets those basic criteria and the minimum quality requirements set by us. The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education approves all apprenticeship standards to ensure they meet high-quality requirements.”

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Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay is head of FE at Tes

Find me on Twitter @JBelgutay

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